Friday, March 31, 2006

Ironical Irony

The piece at this link wants to complain about soon-to-disappear federal dollars if states don’t implement new and tougher standards in the welfare-to-work rules:

States stand to lose $23 million in federal funding over the next five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), if they fail to meet tougher new standards that require a larger percentage of welfare parents to participate in federally approved programs designed to help them find jobs.

The new rules, part of the Deficit Reduction Act signed in January, are the first major changes in the federal-state welfare program – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – since its creation in 1996.

Normally I’d carry on about unfunded mandates and the welfare state and all but I just got stuck staring at the acronym—TANF. So very similar to another well-known acronym that plays on this matter.

For the darkest possible view on the matter, check this commentary from the Times of London.

A wee bit overstated

What Christopher Hitchens appears to think of this opinion of the relative strength and influence of the Israeli Lobby in America:

[…] Mearsheimer and Walt present the situation as one where the Jewish tail wags the American dog, and where the United States has gone to war in Iraq to gratify Ariel Sharon, and where the alliance between the two countries has brought down on us the wrath of Osama Bin Laden. This is partly misleading and partly creepy. If the Jewish stranglehold on policy has been so absolute since the days of Harry Truman, then what was Gen. Eisenhower thinking when, on the eve of an election 50 years ago, he peremptorily ordered Ben Gurion out of Sinai and Gaza on pain of canceling the sale of Israeli bonds? On the next occasion when Israel went to war with its neighbors, 11 years later, President Lyndon Johnson was much more lenient, but a strong motive of his policy (undetermined by Israel) was to win Jewish support for the war the "realists" were then waging in Vietnam. (He didn't get the support, except from Rabbi Meir Kahane.)

If it is Israel that decides on the deployment of American force, it seems odd that the first President Bush had to order them to stay out of the coalition to free Kuwait, and it is even more odd that the first order of neocon business has not been an attack on Iran, as Israeli hawks have been urging. Mearsheimer and Walt are especially weak on this point: They speak darkly about neocon and Israeli maneuvers in respect to Tehran today, but they entirely fail to explain why the main initiative against the mullahs has come from the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Authority, two organizations where the voice of the Jewish lobby is, to say the least, distinctly muted. Their theory does nothing to explain why it was French President Jacques Chirac who took the lead in isolating the death-squad regime of Assad's Syria (a government that Mearsheimer and Walt regard, for reasons of their own, as a force for stability).

In the close we get the usual dose of Hitchens’ acerbic wit:

…it would be stupid not to notice that a group of high-energy Jews has been playing a role in our foreign-policy debate for some time. The first occasion on which it had any significant influence (because, despite its tentacular influence, it lost the argument over removing Saddam Hussein in 1991) was in pressing the Clinton administration to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo. These are the territories of Europe's oldest and largest Muslim minorities; they are oil-free and they do not in the least involve the state interest of Israel. Indeed, Sharon publicly opposed the intervention. One could not explain any of this from Mearsheimer and Walt's rhetoric about "the lobby."
Mearsheimer and Walt belong to that vapid school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started. Their wish is father to the thought that there must be some way, short of a fight, to get around this confrontation. Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly.

Sales Calls

I'm leaving shortly for the day. I'm heading down to Los Angeles to call on a couple of my advertisers. Won't be much going on here aside from anything else Sim sees fit to compile for you.

I'll post a couple of things that were in the que, but for the most part I'll just see you all tomorrow.

I am taking the digital camera along for the ride on the off chance there's something worth seeing. If I come up with any cool pics, I'll post 'em.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Sims go to Washington

This looks fun...

I've been summarized!

Well, not really but it sounds good. My sentiments on Elections ’06 are echoed by Hugh Hewitt at the Heritage Foundation:

The key to painting the map red, he said, is nationalizing the Republican campaign message of '06 behind the central idea of the trustworthiness of the President on national security issues and the War in Iraq.

"If the Democratic Party wins either House of Congress, I think we will lose the war."

He noted, with the disclaimer that he's not questioning anyone's patriotism, that various Dems vocally support the notion that President Bush is a criminal for employing NSA wiretapping and that troops should begin an immediate Murtha-style redemployment[sic] from Iraq.

"These sorts of policies...will lose the war in a way that will be as shattering to the West as the loss of Vietnam was."

Hugh noted that the moral equivalence of the Left has crept onto the Republican side of the aisle and Republicans are moving away from the President on this issue when they should not be.

"He does what he says. That is their greatest advantage."

Another step

On the road to Utopia.

Similar bills that would give 1.4 million minimum wage earners a dollar-an-hour raise and then adjust their pay each year to keep up with inflation were approved by committees in the Assembly and Senate.

But the Senate committee refused to vote Wednesday on a rival bill backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that includes a $1 increase but not an annual inflation adjustment.

The sponsor of Arnold's preferred bill--this is me rolling my eyes--Senator Abel Maldonado is accusing state Democrats of playing politics with this by not passing the one piece of legislation that the Governor is sure to sign:

"Gov. Schwarzenegger looked me in the eye and told me he would again veto a minimum wage increase with (inflation) indexing," Maldonado said. "I take Gov. Schwarzenegger at his word.

"By not considering my bill, the committee is playing politics with people's lives," he said.

Frankly, you're all playing politics if I might just say so. I could get behind initiatives designed to enhance economic development in the state, bringing higher-wage jobs back to California. I can't however, get behind politicians, in effect, telling grown men & women that staying in low-paying jobs is fine because we'll take care of you.

Welcome to the Party

It only took 4 years:

In a set of policy papers titled "Real Security: Protecting America and Restoring Our Leadership in the World," Democratic leaders in the House and Senate plan to join with leading figures in the party, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Wesley K. Clark, the retired general and former presidential contender, in presenting the plan on Wednesday.

Their purpose, Democrats say, is to rebut the Republican accusation, echoed in some editorial columns, that with Mr. Bush's approval ratings sagging eight months before the next election, party leaders and candidates have not laid out a coherent set of alternatives, especially on Iraq and on dealing with nuclear proliferation.

But Republicans, anticipating the Democratic attack, were already circulating their own counteroffensive on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said he had just obtained a copy of the Democrats' plan and added, "It's taken them all this time to figure out what we've been doing for a long time."

Mary Katherine Ham highlights how exactly all this deep-thinking was received yesterday:

Jeff Harrell provides comprehensive and hilarious analysis:

Congressional Democrats today released "Real Security: The Democratic Plan to Protect America and Restore Our Leadership in the World," a comprehensive plan that consists of a ten-page PowerPoint deck.

Except it's really only five pages, because half the pages are in Spanish. Spanish on one side, English on the other. Like stereo instructions. I guess restoring our leadership to the world is something you can get at Ikea.

Except the first page is just a title card, and the second page is just a blurb. So really it's only three pages.

The Democrats' comprehensive plan for restoring the blah blah and protecting some other thing is actually three PowerPoint slides.

Capt. Ed calls it an incoherent fantasy:

Let's get this straight. The Democrats want to retreat against al-Qaeda forces assembled in Iraq in order to invade Pakistan, which is where Osama is most likely spending his time. They want to run away from the operational forces of AQ in a fashion that will remind all of them of Somalia, Beirut, and Teheran -- proving Osama right about American tenacity. Going after Osama is a terrific goal, but unless they have a better plan than to flood Pakistan with special-forces teams and spies that Pervez Musharraf will consider an act of war, then this policy is doomed to failure.

Gateway Pundit has a round-up of all the whistly tunes that have changed today:

This, of course, is a new direction for the Dems. We are assuming that they they have put aside for now beliefs that:

*America's media is the enemy
* George Bush is the enemy
* personal property rights is the enemy
* Christians are the enemy
* Moderate Muslims are not the enemy
* Walmart is not the enemy
* Business is the enemy
* Republicans are the enemy
* The 10 Commandments are the enemy
* America is the enemy

...Who have I missed?

Bryan Preston wonders whether the Dems have ever met any Special Forces guys:

Democrats are going to "double the number of special forces"? Do they realize that the physical requirements that it takes to even merit special forces mean that it's nearly impossible to double the number of them? I forget the actual number, but the washout rate for special forces applicants is well over 50 percent (70 percent or above seems to be the going rate). To double the number who make it through, you're going to have to lower the standards. A lot. That'll sure help find bin Laden. But lowering standards does sound like something the Democrats could support.

Typos Suck

This came over the fax yesterday. A key in advertising is clarity. If there are any questions about what you're trying to say or any reason to doubt you know what you're talking about, people will too easily dismiss you. And not just because your message came, unsolicited, over the fax machine.

I've checked my map, and for the life of me, I can't find Pompoc, CA anywhere.

Not Negotiating with Terrorists Works Again

Jill Carroll is finally, and thankfully, released.

No Rest for the Ridiculous

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced what should have been welcome news to most Americans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratcheted up fuel efficiency standards for SUV's, minivans and light-trucks. The announcement, apparently the most aggressive in the program's 27 year history, should theoretically be greeted favorably by those who advocate reduced reliance on fossil fuels both in terms of energy independence and greenhouse emissions.

"But nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo," as Steve Martin used to say.

Environmental groups derided yesterday's announcement, saying the rules are too modest for an administration that has called on the nation to kick its oil addiction...“The biggest single step that the president could take to cut our oil addiction, curb global warming and save consumers money at the gas pump is raising (fuel economy) standards substantially, and that's not what they're doing,” said Dan Becker, director of the global warming program at the Sierra Club. “They are tinkering around the edges rather than using the most powerful tool they've got.”

Now admittedly, SUV's aren't really our problem. They are a drop in the bucket in terms of overall petroleum usage and pollution. They are more fuel efficient and economically friendly than some of the 1972 Caddies you still see on the road. Nonetheless, SUVs have become a convenient target for those continually indicting America's bloated consumer society. Fine. But you can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand complain about SUVs for years and years and then when someone steps up to the plate to address the issue, no matter how incrementally, simply dismiss it out of hand. (Kind of reminds me of those people who told us for two decades that Social Security was in trouble and then when someone stepped up and tried to address the problem, reversed field and told us Social Security was safe.) Besides, increasing fuel economy standards for this class of vehicles by 11% doesn't sound like mere tinkering around the edges to me. And the article also points out that the the feds are moving aggressively to address fuel economy for all cars.

I am very concerned about the environmental and national security implications of our addiction to foreign oil. I'm a heavy proponent of R&D surrounding alternative, renewable energy sources. I'm a heavy proponent of major efforts on the conservation front. These steps are good for our environment, good for our national security, and actually, good for our economy. So I philosophically stand shoulder-to-shoulder with groups like The Sierra Club. But these groups continually shoot themselves in the foot and turn off broad swaths of the electorate by poo-poohing any step which possibly conflicts with environmental preservation and by dismissing any incremental improvement out of hand. How do they think you effect real change? This is ivory tower stuff.

There's just no pleasing some people.

Cool Picture of the Day

Yesterday's partial solar eclipse as seen through the crescent of Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Agog with Demagoguery

David Corn is a well-known boob. I know that gasbag is not really worth the bandwidth, but what can I say? I'm a low-hanging fruit kinda guy, these days. I'm doing the best I can.

Anyway, I happened across this and nearly yakked. Hurled. Kevetched. Uebergeben.

Terrorist surveillance program. Consider those three words for a moment. Who could be opposed to a terrorist surveillance program? No one. The operative question is how such a program should function. Who should be monitored? What guidelines, procedures and protections should govern the program? By using this term in a demagogic fashion, Bush is explicitly charging that if a person objects to wiretapping American citizens without a warrant he or she is opposed to penetrating terrorist operations. With such talk, Bush and his aides are engaging in--dare I say it--an Orwellian exercise.

I know our dear Corn is only comfortable calling it a domestic spying program, but until that is actually proven and not just alleged, don't we think it's fair to at least refer to it in terms of the program's stated intention? Corn goes on to state that

They are crassly exploiting the rhetoric of fear. The critics of the warrantless wiretapping okayed by Bush are not saying that they desire no terrorist surveillance program. Yet Bush presents the issue as a harsh either/or--just as he did with the war in Iraq.

Rhetoric of fear. Is it just me or does that sound like a holdover from the halcyon days of "the politics of personal destruction?" And while we're on the subject, who's playing the fear card? Bush? Or those who accidentally keep using words like "Gestapo" or "plantation?" I suppose an argument can be made that Bush is pushing a fear agenda, but isn't it at least slightly disingenuous to suggest that the Democrats aren't? But I progress.

Bush isn't casting it as an either-or. Earlier in Cornholio's piece, he quotes the president thusly:

I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe...then they ought to stand up and say it....They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program.

Sounds pretty fair to me. I don't hear Chuckie Schu or Teddy Chappaquiddick (I'm in a mood, sorry) criticizing the president's program in a nuanced, piecemeal fashion. Rather, I hear bombastic, generalizing hate-speech about "shredding the Constitution," "spying on Americans," and "digital brownshirts." And if the Dems are so opposed to the program, then they should; as the president suggested, come out squarely pushing their position...whatever it may be today or next Thursday. But for some reason they don't.

Is Bush pushing the either-or agenda or is the opposition? Is Bush using it in a demagogic fashion or is the opposition? Is Bush a fear-monger or are those guys who allege that Social Security benefits will be cut by Republicans fear-mongers? Is David Corn a hopeless hack? How many licks to the center of a Tootsie-Pop?

Witch hunt

Dan Patrick was cautioning today on his radio show against turning any MLB investigation into steroids into a witch hunt of Barry Bonds. Hhhmm...

Major League Baseball will investigate alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds and other players and plans to hire former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell to lead the effort.

A baseball official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that final plans for the investigation were still pending, as was a definite answer from Mitchell. An announcement was expected later this week.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because commissioner Bud Selig has not yet made an announcement.

ESPN's confirmation of Mitchell as the head of the investigation comes after Wednesday's New York Times reported that Selig was on the verge of announcing an investigation into steroid use by Bonds and other players as detailed in the book "Game of Shadows" and that Mitchell's name was being floating around baseball circles as the outside person to head such an investigation.

So is it or isn't it? Anymore when it comes to Barry, I don't care. He deserves everything he gets.

A Good Day

It was a good day at Powerline. I already mentioned the Taheri piece.

Additionally, there was an interesting discussion on conflicting reports about FISA judges’ testimony on the NSA Surveillance program:

These reports can't both be right. If what the Washington Times says is correct, the New York Times' account is deeply misleading, if not outright false. As we noted here, Eric Lichtblau has a huge personal investment in the idea (wrong, I think) that the NSA program is "illegal." Is Lichtblau's commitment to that proposition causing him to report falsely on testimony that was given to a Senate committee? Or did the Washington Times go too far in characterizing the judges' approval of the NSA program?

We are trying to track down a transcript of the judges' testimony, which no doubt will answer these questions.

Later in the day, our intrepid legal eagles got what they were looking for and went back to work:

Having reviewed the transcript, I conclude that the Washington Times' characterization was fair, but arguably overstated. The New York Times, however, badly misled its readers. Here are the exchanges where the judges talked about the President's constitutional authority to order warrantless surveillance:

Judge Kornblum: Presidential authority to conduct wireless [Sic. Presumably Judge Kornblum meant "warrantless."] surveillance in the United States I believe exists, but it is not the President's job to determine what that authority is. It is the job of the judiciary.


The President's intelligence authorities come from three brief elements in Article II....As you know, in Article I, Section 8, Congress has enumerated powers as well as the power to legislate all enactments necessary and proper to their specific authorities, and I believe that is what the President has, similar authority to take executive action necessary and proper to carry out his enumerated responsibilities of which today we are only talking about surveillance of Americans.

Senator Feinstein: Now I want to clear something up. Judge Kornblum spoke about Congress's power to pass laws to allow the President to carry out domestic electronic surveillance, and we know that FISA is the exclusive means of so doing. Is such a law, that provides both the authority and the rules for carrying out that authority, are those rules then binding on the President?

Judge Kornblum: No President has ever agreed to that.


Senator Feinstein: What do you think as a Judge?

Judge Kornblum: I think--as a Magistrate Judge, not a District Judge, that a President would be remiss in exercising his Constitutional authority to say that, "I surrender all of my power to a statute," and, frankly, I doubt that Congress, in a statute, can take away the President's authority, not his inherent authority, but his necessary and proper authority.

Senator Feinstein: I would like to go down the line if I could.

Judge Baker?

Judge Baker: No, I do not believe that a President would say that.

Senator Feinstein: No. I am talking about FISA, and is a President bound by the rules and regulations of FISA?

Judge Baker: If it is held constitutional and it is passed, I suppose, just like everyone else, he is under the law too.

Senator Feinstein: Judge?

Judge Stafford: Everyone is bound by the law, but I do not believe, with all due respect, that even an act of Congress can limit the President's power under the Necessary and Proper Clause under the Constitution.

Chairman Specter: I think the thrust of what you are saying is the President is bound by statute like everyone else unless it impinges on his constitutional authority, and a statute cannot take away the President's constitutional authority. Anybody disagree with that?

[No response.]

Chairman Specter: Everybody agrees with that.

But perhaps the most enjoyable post of the day and clearly the most speculative is this one that wonders about Libya as sub-contractor for Saddams nuclear program.

Flood control during a drought

It seems a bit of an oxymoron at first blush, but it’s a serious concern. Last winter was a very wet one by desert standards. We received so much rainfall in fact that one Phoenix-area reservoir went from 60-something percent capacity to over 90% capacity in one week.

Experts were not ready to declare Arizona’s decade-long drought ended, but the relief those storms brought was real and necessary. Apparently though, it was also temporary:

Arizona turned red with extreme drought Tuesday after one of the driest winters on record left the state's high country draped with too much brown and not enough white.The official drought monitor was moved from "severe" to "extreme" based on nearly non-existent snowpack and brittle soil and vegetation conditions. The recent rain and snow had little effect on a drought that is now entering its 11th year.

Meanwhile, back in California they experienced a similar phenomenon here locally:

The Santa Ynez Valley has enjoyed an increase in late-season showers recently, turning the hillsides green and feeding local waterways."

Cachuma's full elevation is historically 750 feet, which was reached (Tuesday)," reported Matt Naftally, a hydrologist with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District.

Last year, a particularly wet winter that included several destructive storms saturated the area in late December and early January, bringing more than 320 percent of normal precipitation to the county. All area reservoirs were filled to spilling, including Cachuma. The Santa Ynez River, typically a sandy riverbed, overflowed its banks during the Cachuma release in early January 2005."

In pretty much all places it was one of the top 10 years," said Naftally.

A year later and we’re still sitting at near 100% capacity. A series of spring storms through the month of March raised concern here locally about needing to repeat last year’s spills. It appears though that will not be necessary:

A little wet weather this early in the spring is not posing the same problems last year's torrential rainfall posed when water from Lake Cachuma had to be released constantly.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the heaviest rain storm this week was expected to have passed by Tuesday night, but some light showers remained possible this morning and early afternoon. The NWS forecast called for one to two inches of rain in this storm for the coast and valleys and three to four inches for the mountains and foothills.

By Tuesday afternoon, 24-hour rainfall totals recorded by the National Weather Service were 0.55 in Lompoc, 0.40 in Santa Maria, 1.12 in Goleta, 1.47 in Santa Barbara, 0.49 in Santa Ynez, 0.36 in Pismo Beach and 1.47 at Port San Luis.

A weak storm is trailing this one, and that is expected to cause some possible showers Friday or Saturday. The weather is expected to clear up Sunday.

That is good news for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Bradbury Dam at Lake Cachuma, and the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District.

“The current elevation at the reservoir is 750.4 feet and we hit the spillway gates at 752 feet,” said Jeff McCracken, a bureau spokesman. “We would begin the release of water (down the Santa Ynez River) when we reach 752.5. We've got some space.”

If there was the need for a small release of water from the dam, it would likely be a couple of thousand cubic feet of water per second, said Matt Naftaly, a hydrologist for the flood control district. The district coordinates with the Bureau of Reclamation and is alerted when water needs to be released from Lake Cachuma.

Twelve months in one state makes very little difference, while in another it’s the difference between night & day. Mother Nature is fickle.

Helicopters and approval ratings

With a tip of the hat to Powerline, we bring you today an interesting piece from Amir Taheri, entitled “The Last Helicopter.” Taheri describes the newest political game sweeping Middle Eastern capitals:

Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.

Mr. Ahmadinejad believes that the world is heading for a clash of civilizations with the Middle East as the main battlefield. In that clash Iran will lead the Muslim world against the "Crusader-Zionist camp" led by America. Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into "a brief moment of triumph." But the U.S. is a "sunset" (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu'ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush's predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.

It’s not just Iran, Taheri notes. It’s all over the place: It is not only in Tehran and Damascus that the game of "waiting Bush out" is played with determination. In recent visits to several regional capitals, this writer was struck by the popularity of this new game from Islamabad to Rabat. The general assumption is that Mr. Bush's plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S. The effect of this assumption can be witnessed everywhere.

The implications of this approach are bleak. But not for some other observations, we’d be left drawing a not-so-favorable conclusion:

But how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"? It was to find answers that this writer spent several days in the U.S., especially Washington and New York, meeting ordinary Americans and senior leaders, including potential presidential candidates from both parties. While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.

The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today.

Those who have based their strategy on waiting Mr. Bush out may find to their cost that they have, once again, misread not only American politics but the realities of a world far more complex than it was even a decade ago. Mr. Bush may be a uniquely decisive, some might say reckless, leader. But a visitor to the U.S. soon finds out that he represents the American mood much more than the polls suggest.

If Taheri’s informal assessment is believable, at least a few of us still get it; enough anyway to keep the whole proposition moving forward rather than grinding to a halt.

Development Econmics Watch

One of my areas of interest is development economics. Daniel Drezner reviews William Easterly's interesting book on the subject,"The White Man's Burden:"

The foreign-aid community, according to Mr. Easterly, is mostly composed of Planners. They think of development as a technical engineering problem and generate ambitious plans to eliminate the causes of poverty in a multi-pronged intervention. But Planners are embedded in and beholden to rich donors -- large institutions in the West. Thus they lack real-life, on-the-ground feedback, and they lack accountability, both of which would allow them to improve their policies over time. Mr. Easterly prefers what he calls Searchers -- those who learn through trial and error in the field. They can't achieve the ambitious goals set out by Planners, but they can deliver at least some results. "The White Man's Burden" is one long exercise in demonstrating why the Planners' mentality is wrong and why a little humility is in order: "The West cannot transform the Rest. It is a fantasy to think that the West can change complex societies with very different histories and cultures into some image of itself. The main hope for the poor is for them to be their own Searchers, borrowing ideas and technology from the West when it suits them to do so." Mr. Easterly shows why many of the development fads of the past 50 years -- the big push, donor coordination, shock therapy -- failed to do much good. He does a nifty job of disproving Jeffrey Sachs's claim that the real problem with Africa is that it is stuck in a "poverty trap" -- i.e., so poor that it cannot generate economic growth on its own. The real problem is bad governance. Aid institutions have not helped matters by doling out grants and loans to corrupt and thuggish regimes.

I'm in favor of America and the industrialized world doing what they can to help those in need. But I'm conflicted because I've always known some of the truths that easterly apparently documents. So long as these problems remain intractable, how can anyone really question the amount of aid? If Easterly's analysis is correct, it's not an issue of quantity and soaring agendas. It's one of quality and iterative, grass-roots progress.


My first response yesterday to the news that interest rates were going up...again:

When is enough enough?

Former Hometown Blues

I used to marvel while I lived there that Phoenix, while the 6th (or 5th depending on who you believed) largest city in the US could at times feel very small, sometimes strangely so. How strangely?

How ‘bout this strangely:

Three years after Shellie White became a fugitive with her two children, the 30-year-old Arizona woman was arrested in North Carolina on kidnapping charges and accused of posing as their father. The real dad, Ernest Karnes of Globe, was reunited Monday with his two youngsters, Erica and Dusty.

Drama-Queen-of-the-week Award

Joke or no joke, I don’t care anymore:

Monday he joked with an Associated Press reporter that his life is in such shambles he should "go to the Empire State Building and jump off, commit suicide and people can say, 'Barry Bonds is finally dead.'" Well, it would solve some problems for commissioner Bud Selig.

Just shut up and go away!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A prayer for Helen

Reading the title at first, I thought that Sim's post yesterday morning was the long-awaited and promised-return only to read of the saddening news about his aunt.

I won't bore or offend with platitudes or inane commentary. Suffice it to say, I understand what it is he and his family face; the cruelest part of a chronic illness is how it lulls you into thinking your loved one is doing fine, but all the while underneath the thin veneer they are still very, very sick.

I watched it with my mother, and Sim it seems has already suffered through a similar thing before. It is my hope that Helen will live many more good years, years spent teaching her family, loving them and sharing herself with them at every opportunity. She, and you, will be added to my prayer list.

What to do

If disaster strikes the Lompoc Valley...

Monday, March 27, 2006

What if you robbed a bank...

...but didn't steal anything? Least not anything that people would expect.

If you can deal with the language--some of the nastiest I've seen on the screen in a while--you'll be pleasantly entertained by a smart bad guy, a very smart cop and a pretty smart thriller.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

This is probably not what the clerics had in mind. It speaks for itself:

An Afghan Christian leader in the U.S. has welcomed reports that criminal charges may be dropped against an Afghan convert who was threatened with execution for refusing to return to Islam. The case has prompted strong international condemnation.

Hussain Andaryas said the publicity surrounding the Abdul Rahman case had resulted in a surge of interest in Christianity among Afghans, strong concern for the plight of Afghanistan's underground Christians -- and an antagonistic response from Muslims.

This is yet another example adding to literally thousands of years worth of evidence: when the Church is persecuted, it grows. God does his best work in a pinch.

Ghost Fighters

"People don't know we are fighting ghosts..."

In a week that saw the WH push back against Big Media's coverage of Iraq, followed by various denials on the part of those Big Media outlets that has focused attention on the question of why we don't more often hear about Iraqi success stories, one small paper offers an example of how to do it.

On Friday one of our publications, the Five Cities Times Press Recorder and it's managing editor Emily Slater, published a front-page piece focused on 20-year old Marine marksman Brandon Rehorn. The piece is the first of four that promise to tell the story of the young Central Coast Marine.

Brandon's story is both a personal one--his mother is convinced that his choice of the Marines has "saved his life"--as well as one promising to shed light on the broader scope of US efforts in Iraq; both good and bad:

All (people) see on TV is us dying and innocent people dying. They don't know the half of it. They don't see the stuff (the insurgents) do to test us out. People don't know we are fighting ghosts. They don't understand why innocent people get killed.

Brandon is an unlikely Marine. Growing up as a teenager in Nipomo with a passion for paintball but little 'real-life' experience with shooting the 'real deal', Brandon walked into a recruiter's office with two of his friends. He was the only one to walk out a military recruit:

"If the war wasn't going on, I wouldn't have enlisted. I knew I was going to Iraq and that's what I wanted. I thought I could make a difference (specifically) in the infantry. I wanted to be a part of something big. I wanted to do something tough and hard. I didn't want to be a mechanic or a pencil pusher. I didn't want to join the Corps to do that."

The Marines are the last place one would picture the soft-spoken easygoing Brandon.

"People who hadn't met me--my stepdad's family and my neighbor--until after I got back from Iraq thought I would be a jerk. All the members in my family don't think I seem like a typical Marine."

"I told the recruiter, 'You don't have to lie to me. I know I'm going to Iraq.'"

Upon completion of boot camp, Brandon was stationed with the 1-5--the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines, a member of Charlie Company. Additionally, because of his expert shooting scores in basic he was chosen for training as a designated marksman. For the impassioned video gamer it would all become very real, very soon: "I realized (shooting) was going to be more personal. I could see exactly where my shot was impacting."

Exactly where one of his first shots impacted was through the neck of an Iraqi man.

Brandon and his unit ultimately landed at Camp Snake Pit, in beautiful downtown Ramadi. For young Brandon's money, his new home was one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq:

"Ramadi is nothing like Fallujah. 1-5 was so much more scared in Ramadi than they were in Fallujah. It's hard in Ramadi because the men wouldn't come out and fight like they did in Fallujah. There, you knew who you were fighting because the women and children had been evacuated and the men were fighting like in a battle; it's more difficult to ID the enemy in Ramadi. No one wears a uniform."

The TPR promises to tell Brandon's story in four installments, the next publishing on Wednesday the 29th. The coming installments promise to tell the story of fighting and dying, building and rebuilding Iraqi lives and ultimately, the story of Brandon's homecoming.

In the process, these pieces will hopefully flesh out people's perceptions about the thousands of Brandons out there: young men who choose to do dirty, difficult work that is often under-reported and unappreciated.

I will do my best to blog these reports here but at this writing anyway, this initial piece remains unavailable in the TPR's on-line edition. Inexplicably so.

UPDATE-- 7:49PM. The TPR home-page was updated this afternoon, and the story is now available. The TPR link now goes directly to it. The sidebar with comments from Brandon's mom is linked also.

Part of the Beltway Traffic Jam.

Bad line

Worst closing line in a not-much-better big-budget thriller...for my money anyway:

"Have you ever seen the air so clear?"

A hard dose of reality

My expectation that I'd post something over the weekend was quickly thrown under the bus when my aunt made her second trip this week to the emergency room early Saturday morning. A difficult couple of weeks has culminated in her being diagnosed after Saturday's event with congestive heart failure. The folks at the hospital quickly stabilized her and she has been improving throughout the weekend.

But nonetheless, those three words (congestive heart failure) are truly haunting for me because they are the three words which prematurely took the lives of my parents almost twelve years ago. Since their deaths, my aunt Helen has really become almost a second mother to me. And the prospect of losing her is deeply troubling, especially since I moved here, in part, to be closer to her.

Congestive heart failure is a chronic and incurable condition. It often portends ongoing hospital visits and hyper-involved healthcare. I hated hearing those words because I know what they mean. But I was thankful that she had not suffered a heart-attack or stroke which would have had more immediate and critical implications. Helen is indeed getting better. But the anxiety and panic which I felt on Saturday morning were painful reminders of memories I have long tried to bury. And it of course caused everyone in the family to confront the reality that someday Helen will be gone. Hopefully that will be a long way down the road. But the truth is that when that day comes, the members of my family will all have a major, major void in our lives. Helen is the glue.

Please send all of your thoughts, prayers, good vibes and four leaf clovers in the direction of Helen. She (and all of my family) really need them.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Point of Irony

In 2004, John Kerry and the Democrats pilloried the Bush administration for not providing body armor and armor-plated vehicles in sufficient quantities to US units in Iraq. Now that there's enough to go around, some are saying "Thank, but no thanks,":

Extra body armor - the lack of which caused a political storm in the United States -has flooded in to Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.

Marines already carry loads as heavy as 70 pounds when they patrol the dangerous streets in towns and villages in restive Anbar province. The new armor plates, while only about five pounds per set, are not worth carrying for the additional safety they are said to provide, some say.

"We have to climb over walls and go through windows," said Sgt. Justin Shank of Greencastle, Pa. "I understand the more armor, the safer you are. But it makes you slower. People don't understand that this is combat and people are going to die."

Staff Sgt. Thomas Bain of Buffalo, N.Y., shared concerns about the extra pounds.

"Before you know it, they're going to get us injured because we're hauling too much weight and don't have enough mobility to maneuver in a fight from house to house," said Bain, who is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "I think we're starting to go overboard on the armor."

Life is full of trade-offs. Even, and sometimes most especially, the life military.

Strategery for the Fall

The Washington Post reports over the weekend what appears is the White House strategy for keeping Congress in Republican hands:

President Bush on Friday provided a preview of his two-front strategy for protecting the Republican congressional majority in an ominous political climate: hammer Democrats on national security and the economy, and raise millions of dollars for embattled GOP candidates ...

Sounds vaguely familiar.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

And with that...

I leave you, waiting expectantly for Sim's promised missive. I won't be back until probably tomorrow night.

We're running around preparing the house--in the middle of a spring rain--for my dad and his wife who will be visiting overnight.

Seventh in 10 days

Bill Roggio with another interesting and illuminating post from ground zero--Iraq:

The Iraqi Army has launch yet another independent operation, code named Scorpion, in the Kirkuk region. This is a combined multi-battalion operation comprised of two Iraqi battalions, the 1st and 5th battalions of the Iraqi Army's 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, with the U.S. 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division acting in a supporting role. According to Multinational Forces - Iraq, "The operation was developed and planned by Maj. Gen. Anwar, commander of the Iraqi 2nd Brigade, and his staff."

The operational tempo in central and northern Iraq has increased. Scorpion is the seventh multi-battalioncounterinsurgency operation launched in the last ten days.

Could we have possibly reached a critical mass?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sports stuff I hate

I'm branching out (this isn't about Barroid).

They’re the Bulldogs. They’ve always been the Bulldogs. They were the Bulldogs when we used to whip up on them in the 80’s, they were the Bulldogs when they first appeared in the NCAA tournament a decade ago and they were most certainly the Bulldogs last night.

Stupid media name-maker-uppers not withstanding, they are not the “Zags.” They have never been the “Zags.” Only after somebody in TV land decided that “Bulldogs” just doesn’t have a national-TV-audience ring to it and decided to spend the better part of a decade forcing it into the College Basketball lexicon did the University itself start using it.

Only after all that do you get this. And I hate it. They’re the Bulldogs.

And speaking of last night, I’m reminded--as I think over that epic collapse—of this. One school marches on to claim the national title and the other returns to the relative obscurity of Malibu’s coastal bluffs.

Welcome to the West Coast Conference.

More Exploding Heads

I heard Rosa’s remarks while driving around at lunch in a quick radio news blurb. She was an attendee at this march in Phoenix:

“We need laws to protect illegal immigrants.”

And with that, I nearly swerved into oncoming traffic. This is the world we live in.

I have no commentary. There just aren't words. Up is Down and Down is Up.

Who Cares

Yesterday, Kevin Drum reviewed the most recent document(s) alleging a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the 1990’s. His bottom-line analysis? “Who cares.”

Who cares?!

Exactly…Drum is the guy who, back in his days as a somewhat-well-known California blogger at Calpundit, told us that Bill Burkett was a credible critic of the President’s National Guard service.

Who cares indeed.

Watch this wall for coming attractions!

I know the teeming hordes which comprise our audience have been literally on pins and needles waiting for the next installment of "Sim Actually Blogs." Well, the time has come. Almost. Your intrepid pseudo-blogger has been so irritated by an article he read in The New Yorker that he will actually go on something of a bender this weekend and write an analysis of said article. And I'm defining "bender" as "setting aside urgent work, house painting, bill paying, family obligations and some desperately needed R & R." That's how mad I am.

On a side note, you may be asking yourself why a conservative has a subscritpion to The New Yorker. Good question. I'm not really sure how to explain it, but I'll give it a shot. The New Yorker provides an eclectic mix of political commentary, the arts, David Sedaris, John Updike and others. It's an iconic and unique cultural overview, in my opinion. Now true, it's a slanted to the left. Hendrik Hertzberg is a great writer but an unhinged mind. His analyses of political issues leave a lot to be desired. But they sound good. Sy Hersh often covers topics of interest to me, but his methods are slack and biases tired. A recent addition has been Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars (a must read if you're interested in Afghanistan, al Qaeda, political Islam, Pakistan, etc). He's one of the true greats operating out there discussing South Asia and the War on Terror. His recent article about the India-Pakistan nuclear showdown in 2001-2002 addressed not only an under-reported event but also provided deep insight on one of the world's more unstable and dangerous regions. It also delved into the Bush Administration's strategy and relationships with both countries, which is central to any meaningful understanding of the approach to the GWOT. So that's why I read The New Yorker.

Of course, it would make people laugh to watch me as I read it. I sit there alternately shaking my head, laughing derisively, shouting out expletives, or throwing it down and leaving the room. For every Steve Coll article there are ten Hertzberg and Hersh pieces. Thank goodness for David Sedaris.

Branding is hard

Branding is hard. It’s often a tightrope walk—misstep and you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. Just ask Coca-Cola about New Coke…

Which makes me wonder about what Wal-mart is up to:

In its boldest effort yet to target upscale shoppers, the nation's largest retailer is opening a new store this week with an expanded selection of high-end electronics, more fine jewelry, hundreds of types of wine ranging up to $500 a bottle, and even a sushi bar.

Wal-Mart says it won't duplicate this format anywhere else. But if plasma TVs, microbrewery beer and fancy balsamic vinegar sell in Plano, those items could be added to stores in other affluent communities.

With a hat tip to Marshall at Edelman, what I wonder is this: is Walmart wandering too far from it’s core business? I once lived less than 5 miles from multiple Walmart stores, none of them the same as any of the others.

In recent years we’ve seen the expansion of Walmart into market niches-- Superstores combine regular stores with a grocery store, Neighborhood Markets focus solely on grocery business while the regular Walmart continues to focus on quality merchandise at low prices.

That last bit is the key; that is Walmart’s brand. It’s what they built the business around, and on that point there is no disagreement. The Tribune article linked above argues that: Retail experts say nearly half of American families shop at Wal-Mart at least once a week. They say the retail giant has nearly tapped out its middle-class base and must attract consumers who love Target and Costco but not Wal-Mart.

With about 3,700 U.S. stores, Wal-Mart has nearly saturated the market, and analysts say future growth depends on boosting sales by offering a better shopping experience. The company is renovating 1,800 stores as many of its older outlets have started looking a little tired.

I work in advertising, but when it comes to branding I profess no real expertise. Obviously Walmart’s management team is paid to know these things and to make decisions accordingly. It is obvious they believe that changes to the brand are necessary and a good thing for the stores.

Time will tell, but I imagine that Coca-Cola once thought Coke was a tired brand.

Welcome to the WCC

Gonzaga goes the way of it's predecessors last night, giving away a huge second half lead and losing to UCLA.

Why should WCC basketball ever be different...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

That sucking sound you hear...

Is the noise that human heads make when they explode. Greg Palast is at it again. This is actually nuttier than his post-election analysis of Ohio:


It’s all about OIL!: In case you've forgotten what their real mission was, let me remind you of White House spokesman Ari Fleisher's original announcement, three years ago, launching of what he called,



O.I.L. How droll of them, how cute. Then, Karl Rove made the giggling boys in the White House change it to "OIF" -- Operation Iraqi Freedom. But the 101st Airborne wasn't sent to Basra to get its hands on Iraq's OIF.

Do tell!: And what did the USA want Iraq to do with Iraq's oil? The answer will surprise many of you: and it is uglier, more twisted, devilish and devious than anything imagined by the most conspiracy-addicted blogger. The answer can be found in a 323-page plan for Iraq's oil secretly drafted by the State Department. Our team got a hold of a copy; how, doesn't matter.

Doesn’t matter? Hi,…one word for you Greg: Credibility. But I digress.

So the entire plan was to, what, exactly?:

There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil -- not to get more of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing too much of it.

You must keep in mind who paid for George's ranch and Dick's bunker: Big Oil. And Big Oil -- and their buck-buddies, the Saudis -- don't make money from pumping more oil, but from pumping less of it. The lower the supply, the higher the price.

It's Economics 101. The oil industry is run by a cartel, OPEC, and what economists call an "oligopoly" -- a tiny handful of operators who make more money when there's less oil, not more of it. So, every time the "insurgents" blow up a pipeline in Basra, every time Mad Mahmoud in Tehran threatens to cut supply, the price of oil leaps. And Dick and George just love it.

Dick and George didn't want more oil from Iraq, they wanted less. I know some of you, no matter what I write, insist that our President and his Veep are on the hunt for more crude so you can cheaply fill your family Hummer; that somehow, these two oil-patch babies are concerned that the price of gas in the USA is bumping up to $3 a gallon.

Not so, gentle souls. Three bucks a gallon in the States (and a quid a litre in Britain) means colossal profits for Big Oil, and that makes Dick's ticker go pitty-pat with joy. The top oily-gopolists, the five largest oil companies, pulled in $113 billion in profit in 2005 -- compared to a piddly $34 billion in 2002 before Operation Iraqi Liberation. In other words, it's been a good war for Big Oil.

As per Plan Bush, Bahr Al-Ulum became Iraq's occupation oil minister; the conquered nation "enhanced its relationship with OPEC;" and the price of oil, from Clinton peace-time to Bush war-time, shot up 317%.

Apparently world events transpire in a vacuum. At least in Palast’s world. Which makes sense, since as best I can tell he is a walking vacuum. As in lots of empty space where the brains ought to be…

Meanwhile, what does common sense and context add to this discussion? I give you Sim’s thoughts via the magic of the internet:

1. Any commentary which suggests a policy based around OPEC assumes that it is the powerful entity it once was. It is not. It is a player that is not of an order of magnitude much greater than the Texas Railroad Commission in global energy.

2. OPEC is NOT strangling us.

3. The oil industry is NOT run by OPEC.

4. If Cheney and Bush want less oil to ratchet up prices, why is the centerpiece of their misguided energy strategy the search for new sources, more refining capacity, etc ?

Another Time Around

Say it here, it happens there.

Perplexing Prosperity

Or as the editorial board put it:

There was a strong show in nationalistic paranoia in Congress recently when it was disclosed that an Arab company tried to take over operations of U.S. ports. Lawmakers waxed poetic about the threat of putting American ports in foreign hands.

In fact, a great deal of the U.S. economy is now in the hands of foreign investors. Another very real fact is that if Congress or the Bush administration - or any president's administration, for that matter - tries to correct the situation by forcing foreign investors to sell their interests in U.S. companies or stocks and bonds, there is a distinct possibility our economy would simply collapse, like a balloon attacked by an army of needles.


What can Americans do about this? Relatively little. The U.S. government is borrowing from foreign banks at the rate of $2 billion a day just to cover the cost of the growing trade deficit this country has with its major trading partners. And foreign investors seem happy, at least for now, to be allowed to benefit financially in U.S. markets and with U.S. companies.

The U.S. economy, as it turns out, is fully-integrated with those of foreign nations. We need them, just as they need us. It's not so much a matter of national security as it is a matter of national prosperity.

Which makes Duncan Hunter's proposal beyond-perplexing: The proposal comes from Rep. Duncan Hunter (news, bio, voting record), a California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He would like to set a series of draconian standards for any company wishing to buy a part of the nation's "critical infrastructure." Its chairman and CEO would have to be American, as would at least half of its board. The secretary of Defense would have to approve half of the board members and the company would have to keep tabs on the citizenship of its shareholders to make sure that no more than half were non-U.S. citizens.

The idea that the government would be allowed to choose who controls private companies is bizarre by itself. More so coming from a Republican. But that's only the beginning of the problems the bill would create.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Look at that...

Good news in Iraq:

Emboldened a day after a successful jailbreak, insurgents laid siege to another prison Wednesday. This time, U.S. troops and a special Iraqi unit thwarted the pre-dawn attack south of Baghdad, overwhelming the gunmen and capturing 50 of them, police said.

I know this much is True

I hate this song.

On the way home from work this evening I had the opportunity to hear Tony Hadley's 'soulful' rendition of the title track--one of the more enduring songs of the early 80s 'New Romantic' pop tunes, and a song that I--always--react viscerally to hearing and have for nearly 23 years.

It's Darren's fault. Darren from Denver. It's been so long, I don't have the slightest recollection of his full name and frankly...don't care. It doesn't matter.

What does matter is that he destroyed whatever possible enjoyment there might have been for me in hearing anything from this band. That's twenty-plus years of pop radio 'dedications' and special requests for Bobby-from-Suzy. All smashed--utterly ruined from the get-go.

Darren, a fellow resident of Dorm 12, Suite E, used to lock himself in his room next to mine and for hours play--and replay--individual songs on his boom-box (yes, that's what they were called then, thank you). First it was 'True.' Then it was 'Gold,' and finally 'Communication.'

I hear them now and I am instantly transported back in time to the fall of my freshman year. And I am hearing the song for the 5th or maybe the 17th time in a row--who really knows. You start to lose count after three weeks of hearing the same thing over & over & over & over.

I hear the tune now and I must sing along. I don't want to, but I need to. I haven't heard it in months, or maybe even years yet I can sing it all, from start to finish. Every verse, through every key change, humming the melody line in the sax solo.

It's like a sickness. And it's all Darren's fault. In a just world, I would know his last name and I could seek from him some sort of proper recompense for what he did to me. But sadly, what I didn't immediately push out of my mind in 1983, the passage of time has eradicated almost wholly. All that is left is a name and a vaguely-familiar image of a face with big round glasses slipping down a broad nose.

Darren decided the west coast wasn't for him. He only lasted one trimester with us there in Dorm 12. He returned to Colorado so that he could continue his schooling at the University of Denver and the chance to be nearer his high-school sweatheart.

Only problem was, she dumped him just as the trimester ended. I guess you could say I did get my revenge after all.

Good choice

We finally got the girls to the Vet last week. After much uncertainty and indecision as to whose care we should place them under, we settled on the Lompoc Veterinary Clinic.

Turns out to have been a good choice. We've received two follow up calls from the examining doctor and tonight received the obligatory "Thank you for your business," note.

Not only did they handle the dogs well, not only did they satisfy the owner's questions and concerns, but they actually care enough about my business to try and keep it.

I can think of a few other places around town who ought to be taking notes...

Why wasn't George Tenet fired?

I have no context to place this in that makes sense to me. Why would the CIA, with what appeared to be seriously inside-information about Saddam's WMD seemingly pay no attention to it? Especially if-as reported by some-the bureaucracy itself was chafing at the White House's characterizations about Saddam's capabilities. I'm perplexed.

Why would they have talked to Sabri and done nothing with it? The only conclusions I can reach, at this point anyway, are that they thought Sabri was full of it or they completely missed the importance of what they got.

NRO's Media Blog thinks it's an easy call:

The story essentially defuses itself later on:

The U.S. hoped Sabri would leave Iraq and publicly renounce Saddam. He repeatedly refused, sources say, and contact was broken off.

It's obvious why the CIA dismissed the information he was providing: This man was obviously loyal to Saddam. NBC is suggesting that proper protocol for the U.S. should have been to ignore British, French, Russian, and our own intelligence agencies, and instead rely on a member of Saddam's inner circle.

Neither of those options are necessarily very reassuring.


It is refreshing to see a complex mind acknowledging what it does and doesn’t know. Read British professor John Barrow’s piece on how science illuminates the Glory of God.

The concept of a lawful Universe with order that can be understood and relied upon emerged largely out of religious beliefs about the nature of God.

And these beliefs can take us down unexpected paths, further away from the everyday: multiverses, extra dimensions, the bending of time and of space - all may reveal a Universe that contains more than is needed for life, more even than is needed for speculation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Getting it

If you look hard enough, you begin to see evidence that Big Media is “getting” the whole blogging thing.

What makes a civil war?

Back in February, Bill Roggio gave you his thoughts.

Today, our editorial board shared their thoughts on the subject:

How, exactly, do you define civil war? In America's case, it was the north squaring off against the south. One side wore blue uniforms and other wore gray. One side carried the stars and stripes, the other the stars and bars.

If only that were the case in Iraq, where each day 50 to 60 Iraqis are killed by other Iraqis. Their outward appearance is pretty much the same. They aren't in uniform and they generally do not carry their nation's flag.

It's the hate and anger inside that is making the difference, but that is a distinction President Bush and his top advisors don't seem to recognize.

Over the weekend, Wretchard at The Belmont Club posted in reply to the BBC story quoting the former prime minister of Iraq:

A civil war is a visible event whose indicators includes the insubordination of armed units, mass refugee flows, the rise of rival governments, etc. The test is whether those events are being observed. What famous individuals say about a situation is a shortcut for encapsulating a factual assessment; it describes reality as public figures see it but is not the reality itself. That remains a mystery until developments unfold. One interesting indicator of how the US military sees the situation are its plans to turn over large parts of the country to Iraqi forces.

I hear echoes of Bill Roggio's comments here: there are actual events that are unmistakeable in terms of their meaning that define a civil war. A point that Hugh Hewitt hammers home in a related post today: It was civil war in the former Yugolsavia that prompted American intervention because the slaughter was unacceptable. It was a civil war in Rwanda in which the U.S. did not intervene that causes shame to this day. Civil war in Sudan --and continuing ethnic violence in Darfur-- are among the world's current shames.

If "civil war" is to mean anything, it must not be attached to a country in which all major parties are currently negotiating the formation of a government after three successful elections, and in which the deeply suspicious groups have agreed on a the formation of a national security council.

At the risk of oversimplifying an analysis of what really is "civil war," I think it's fair to say that you know it when you see it.


A post, so-named, in honor of Big Media’s keeper of the meme. At today’s WH press conference, the President tangled with The Keeper in an exchange that offers hope to the President’s supporters that he is waking up and finally offering the defense of his policy that we’ve needed to hear for so long now:

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you, Mr. President -- your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime.
Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, your Cabinet officers, former Cabinet officers, intelligence people and so forth -- but what's your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil, the quest for oil. It hasn't been Israel or anything else. What was it?

BUSH: I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- that I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.


BUSH: Hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me.
No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true.

BUSH: My attitude about the defense of this country changed in September the 11th. When we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people.

Our foreign policy changed on that day. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.

And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people, that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.
Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy, and that's why I went into Iraq.


BUSH: Hold on for a second. Excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for Al Qaida.

BUSH: That's where Al Qaida trained and that's where...


BUSH: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for Al Qaida. That's where they trained, that's where they plotted, that's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council. That's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed.

And the world said, "Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences." And therefore, we worked with the world. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world.
And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it.

For my money, the key part of that defense is his explanation of what changed, how and why after 9/11.

Snark 2.1

Last week the White House released an updated version of the National Security Strategy, dubbed NSS 2.0 by some. In the course of my daily reading yesterday, I noticed some snarky blog posting on the subject. So snarky that in fact I wondered if the author(s) had read the document.

Here is one analysis from a journalist who it appears, has taken the time to dive into the document itself:

The March 2006 National Security Strategy -- call it NSS 2.0 -- reiterates much of the earlier document. NSS 2.0 repeats the doctrine of pre-emption: The United States "will, if necessary, act pre-emptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense."

But NSS 1.0 also called for working with other countries and international institutions when possible, and NSS 2.0 provides much more detail on how this has been done

Note that here the administration is not limiting itself to working through pre-existing multinational organizations, where action may be blocked by others and whose bureaucracies are often hostile to the United States. Instead, it has been building coalitions of the willing to address particular problems.

Sept. 11 prompted George W. Bush to make "the most fundamental reassessment of American grand strategy in over half a century," historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote of NSS 1.0. Bush put his own particular stamp on that policy -- the relentless insistence that promoting democracy is our prime goal. NSS 2.0 provides some course corrections, but retains the same overall outlook and emphasizes democracy promotion even more strongly. However beleaguered he may be in current polls, Bush has produced a foreign policy framework that promises to be enduring.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Speech

Read the President's speech and ask yourself why the media hasn't told you the story of Al-Tafar.

Something else to consider

On the anniversary of the Iraq War's start, I was called out here. Personally, I don't put much stock in the whole "chickenhawk" argument, but to each their own.

Something I'd like to remind the Unknown Soldier about is this distinct dis-similarity between Iraq and Vietnam and the relative low price in the most meaningful treasure we have to spend:

According to the website, which tracks U.S. military deaths in Iraq, the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq since March 20, 2003 is 2,317 lives, one more than the worst month in Vietnam.

Powers of Prognostication

For some at least, seem to be lacking.

Iraq is not a picnic. It is a dangerous place where difficult work is ongoing daily. But is it really as bad as Ted Kennedy told us it would be?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

You can never really go back

For the second time in the last two months our Bible study hopped in the car and drove down to Simi Valley to attend a Saturday night service at Cornerstone Community Church. My wife and I attended there for about two years prior to our move to Phoenix.

The group has been using a series that Francis preached for over a year. It's a marvelous study of Revelations and the group has come to love his preaching style and benefits greatly from the study. They expressed an interest in hearing him in person and so each of the last two months we've made the trip from Lompoc to Simi Valley.

At the time of our move we'd just recently gotten involved in small group ministry at Cornerstone. We weighed the many potential benefits of the move against the obvious benefit of growth and involvement in that ministry, one against the other in our decision making process.

I have never regretted our move to Arizona. We felt at the time that it was a God-given opportunity for us and one that would hold many potential blessings. It opened the door for many things for us, many that we enjoy even now in our return to California roots. We worshiped at a wonderful church and became part of a wonderful family there.

Last night as I listened to Francis speak, I--for the first time--found myself wondering what our lives would be like had we stayed in Thousand Oaks, made the investment in that small group and continued worshiping at that church.

Francis has always been about the holiness of God and the primacy of Christ, and he spoke of them again. They have been constant themes in his teaching, from the first time I ever heard him speak in 1999.

I heard also a maturity that was not present when we attended. Francis has matured into a leader who has cast, with God's help, a bold vision for his church and it's people.

Last night, he spoke eloquently about them again and about the church's efforts in missions. As we sat there listening to a live call with a Cornerstone family--one whom I recall from our time there--after having heard of other church members who now find themselves in situations they'd never have dreamed of at one point, I thought to myself, "Where would we be now? What would our lives be had we stayed in this place?"

When we left, many of us were inspired, yet sad. Most because they have been reminded in both visits of what their own church lacks right now. I was troubled, not so much by that (though it is always on our hearts), but because the sense that we'd missed an opportunity to be part of something fruitful there in Simi was so strong.

The temptation today has been to keep looking back. God's scripture is clear; His people are a forward-looking people.

We are here, we are part of a church where many things are happening and need to happen as we move forward. We have the opportunity to be a part of something here; something that we could not do in Phoenix and something we could not do in Simi either.

This is where we are, this is where we ought to be. This is home.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I would have forgotten had I not run across a news item or two about it:

From anti-war marches to community vigils, thousands of Bay Area residents are expected to take to the streets today and send a message to end the conflict.

In San Francisco, two protests organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R., Act Now To Stop War and End Racism, are expected to draw thousands to the Civic Center for a rally and march through the Tenderloin and Union Square areas. The marches are expected to begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Across the bay in Oakland, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will hold a town-hall meeting addressing the war in Iraq. The meeting is expected to begin at 9 a.m. in the Grand Lake Theater.

A `Stop the War in Iraq` march is expected to stop traffic in Walnut Creek when protesters gather at 11 a.m. near the Walnut Creek Bay Area Rapid Transit station.

The picture is from March '04, but I have a sense given the names mentioned here that most haven't moved on to any more intelligent or cogent arguments.

As for forgetting about the anniversary...shameful. Especially when family is there today on tour number two.


This story pretty much brought the newsroom to a standstill on Friday afternoon, taking it all in via police scanner. Especially so for my assistant.

Her husband was sitting there on the 101, watching the whole thing go down: Orcutt resident Damon Locke, 46, witnessed the shootout while driving northbound. He watched as the suspect crossed the median and nearly hit oncoming traffic.

“The truck was off the ground,” Locke said. “It almost hit a school bus.”

Locke said the narcotics officer actually approached the suspect - not vice versa - and sideswiped the suspect's moving van with his own pickup truck. The fatal shootout ensued there.

A Candid look into the Morally vacant

So says Dean Barnett of the new, would-be progressive "Bible," Crashing the Gate.

Aside from an excellent analysis of Democratic ills, he's not really sure what the point is:

Democratic political consultants receive particularly harsh treatment. Moulitsas and Armstrong take shots at Bob Shrum (who is now 0 for 8 in presidential elections) , and yet is seemingly entrusted every four years to run another Democratic campaign into the ground. Crashing the Gate also exposes the astronomical fees that Shrum and his ilk charge and acidly observes how even the notoriously spendthrift Bush campaign was able to pay less than half as much for better service.

Armstrong and Moulitsas astutely highlight another critical challenge facing the Democrats--the party has devolved into a gaggle of squabbling factions who care more about their own pet issues than they do the fate of the party. NARAL, for instance, comes in for a bashing for its endorsement of pro-choice Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island.

The authors conclude that the Democrats' big tent is crammed with special interest groups is because the party has no unifying principles or goals. Moulitsas and Armstrong declare, "It is difficult to overstate the need for the Democratic Party to develop its own ideas, not just argue against the Republican ones."


BUT THE MOST DISTURBING question raised by Crashing the Gate is if progressives don't know what they're fighting for, then why are they fighting so hard?

Crashing the Gate provides an invaluable snapshot of the Democratic party and the progressive movement circa 2006. Moulitsas and Armstrong are at the vanguard of the progressive movement, and even they don't know seem to know what it stands for.

Indeed. Too many ideas, from too many people a unifying vision do not make.

Adaptation of Dante

The 7th circle of hell is a Friday night visit to WalMart that should only take 10 minutes but instead--when, for no discernible reason, there are only two check-out stands and no self-service lines in operation and 35 people in line--takes 30 minutes, with most of that inching ever-so-slowly forward in the check-out line.

Was nice to see though that somebody had a brain and that the self-serve lines were open by the time we were walking out.

They're usually better than that.

In N Out

They are one of my favorite fast-food eateries, but not the subject of this post.

No, we're taking another look at California's 24th Congressional District, where incumbent Elton Gallegly (who bowed out of this race just a week ago) is back in:

Just days after he made a last-minute announcement that he was retiring due to health concerns, Republican Congressman Elton Gallegly reversed course Wednesday and said he will seek re-election.

Gallegly's change of heart came after he received a letter from the California Republican congressional delegation, a phone call from the president, and finally an OK from the House doctor.

After four days of speculation and party turmoil, Gallegly, who represents the 24th Congressional District, said in a written statement that he intends “to run a vibrant campaign to win re-election in June and in November, and will represent my friends and neighbors for the next two years with the same commitment and dedication I have for the past 20 years.”

It will also be his last: Gallegly, 62, said that, if he wins, this will be his last two-year term representing the district, which covers Ventura County and inland Santa Barbara County.

And with that, a state of normalcy returns to the local Republican organizations in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. What was shaping up as a messy process to find a successor will likely end as it has for most of the last 10 congressional elections--with Congressman Gallegly heading off to D.C.

And with 2 years to focus on finding and grooming a candidate, we residents of the 24th District can look forward to voting in 2008 for a strong successor.

County Roundup

One of the bigger political issues here locally is the proposed County Split. New lines would be drawn at Gaviota and create Mission County, which would then encompass the area from Gaviota to the San Luis Obispo County line just north of Santa Maria.

Proponents of the split have finally produced a summary for inclusion on County ballots where residents will decide the issue: Three members of the Citizens for County Organization - the North County group that gathered 21,000 signatures in 2003 to put a county-split measure on the June 6 ballot - submitted a ballot argument detailing their reasons for backing the division, which would create Mission County from Santa Barbara County land north of Gaviota.

The statement is co-authored by Santa Maria business owner Dave Cross, Cuyama rancher Richard Russell and Santa Ynez business owner Sharon Steele, and focuses on what they say are the benefits of a government more representative of the North County's needs, which vary greatly from those of South Coast residents.

“Obviously I feel that it's in the best interest of the people to do it,” Cross said. “I mean that's my whole interest. I've lived here my whole life and I want what's best for the whole community.”

The proponents' argument will run next [to] the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisor's statement against the county split, which was unanimously approved a week ago.

Additionally, both sides are considering writing rebuttals against the statements of the other: Both sides will now have an opportunity to write a 250-word rebuttal, due March 24 at 5 p.m. At that time, the county Elections Division will release all of the arguments for a 10-day public review, said Bob Smith, elections division manager.

When the supervisors authorized 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal to craft a statement against the split last month, the motion also permitted them to write a rebuttal argument.

Firestone said late Thursday that he's already written a draft statement for the board's consideration. “I'm going to point out that what it says in the argument is speculative,” Firestone said.

The three CFCO members will “definitely” be writing a rebuttal to the supervisors' statement, Cross said.

And that’s where we’re at. Both sides appear passionate about the issue. South County advocates believe the split is bad for both halves of the County. Cross recently wrote that North County cities are woefully under-represented in Santa Barbara and urged voters to approve Mission County’s formation:

Our needs and priorities are not being addressed enough in north Santa Barbara County. We are given less than our share. We are smothered by regulations that reflect the philosophy and limitations of the South Coast, even though they do not fit here.

As I wrote before this is exemplified by the fight over Measure D. Opponents of the split however, do not think it enough to justify the move. As articulated in a recent Times’ editorial:

…opposition to the split goes beyond the wants and needs of individual board members, who probably see the split proposal for what it really is - an emotional attempt to separate the North County and the South Coast along political lines, without any realistic consideration or concern for the problems and hardships that could be caused by forming a new county.

A special commission appointed by the governor spent months analyzing the various technical effects of such a split. Its findings, without equivocation, point to keeping Santa Barbara County whole. Among the major problems would be a $30 million annual deficit the new Mission County would acquire, not counting the additional millions needed in startup costs.

The fact that everyone needs to face is that this issue has now been studied, dissected and studied again, and it seems abundantly clear that the numbers just do not add up. Certainly the commission's specific findings are open to debate, but the overall hurdle of $30 million in red ink isn't going to be overcome without drastic changes.

And in the world of government, “change” usually equates to higher taxes and/or fewer services - a couple of things that North County residents can ill-afford.

From the limited reading on the subject that I’ve done, I gather that the projected $30 million dollar deficit is the biggest question and apprehension that people have about the move. Cross insists, not only is it not a problem, it’s not an accurate number: In the end, it is not about money. New property tax figures have already reduced the reported deficit for Mission County from $30 million to $5 million. It is about what you want the future to be like.

And in relation to the ballot argument, he says: ...he focused his ballot argument on the notion that Mission County residents would face a tax increase if the split were approved, which opponents have frequently used to refute claims that the divorce would prove beneficial for residents. Cross' statement says, “There will be no new taxes involved in this measure. Any new taxes must be voted on and approved by two-thirds majority on a separate ballot.”

As a would-be taxpayer in the proposed Mission County, that is the question that must be answered. Who ya going to believe?

Frankly, I'm not sure I like either choice. The status quo doesn’t serve us well up here, but the pro-change forces are long on vision but short on facts that prove they can deliver.

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